Saturday Spotlight- Kelly Russell

Lou asked me to write this, and because I think Lou is super dope, I agreed!

Up until last spring, I was used to running alone. Normally, when I laced up my sneakers, there was only the echo inside my head of my feet pounding the ground in syncopation with my breathing. I was used to just putting up my pigtails and jogging around the neighborhood. I really only ran as a means of staying thin. Running was just a way to offset the nights of lying in my bed eating Oreos. I didn’t have much of a race history, nor did I view myself as strong enough to be an athlete. But, that was before I met my Wildwood Boys.

I first met Grazzy on an online running forum. He was training for his first half marathon and I invited him and our friend Jason to run Dune road with me. When they both agreed to run on a very cold and Blustery day in March, I knew those boys were just crazy enough to be people I wanted to hang with. I had no idea just how much meeting Johnny Graziano would change me. John founded Wildwood, and that has become a second home for me. That is where I have met my athlete family, and ultimately that is what led me here to all of you. John was the person who convinced me to get over my fear and ride down the hills of Placid on my bicycle. With tall mountains and thick rushing streams as our backdrop, Johnny taught me that my wheels could become wings. If it weren’t for him, I never would have signed up to do my own Ironman this summer in Lake Placid.

Then there was Bobby Moore, the beast. I met him in Montauk when he was crushing a half Ironman. I was doing my first sprint on a mountain bike. I couldn’t even complete the sprint swim without doing an exhausted version of a backstroke. He never laughed at me. He never condescended. Instead, he invited me to the pasta party the night before the race. He was the first person to tell me I had potential, to try and convince me that I wasn’t too awkward or too weak to be an athlete. I will be forever grateful to him. Being able to complete my own half Ironman with him and Grazzy and Michael all at my side, and to race alongside Bobby in the New York City Marathon was a gift. Nothing better!

It was a few months after meeting Johnny and Bobby when I met Michael Irizzary. What can I say about this kid? Michael was the boy who taught me how to swim. After, I tried and failed to chase him across the beautiful Wildwood Lake, we stood in the parking lot and argued theology. He got my Irish up. We couldn’t stop fighting and talking that evening, and we have not stopped since. If anyone had told me that my best friend would turn out to be this hairy, hilarious, Christian boy, I would have told you that was crazy. I’m a liberal Hippy girl, but somehow Mike and I always get each other. Whether running the hills on a Tuesday night, or doing limb shaking Core at the gym, he always has my back. Michael was the one who introduced me to the hills.

After my first time running the hills, I came round here and starting talking smack. I did not realize the talent of the company I was keeping. I figured you were all just a bunch of joggers like me. We all know how my smack talk turned out. The first time I met any of you was during the three-loop challenge. On that day, the parking lot was a red heart. It pulsed with revelry. There were reasons to celebrate… the sinew of our legs, our lungs like fully inflated balloons floating skyward. I was giddy with it. I am giddy with it still.

A year ago, I was spending a lot of time eating takeout soup in bookstore parking lots. I was lonely. I didn’t have a community to call my own. I didn’t view myself as particularly good or talented at anything involving coordination and physicality. By meeting my boys, and becoming part of these two groups, I have embraced the idea that I’m capable, and I have widened my social circle to include some of the best teachers, the most endearing people, and some of my most cherished and loved friends.
I want to thank all of you. Every. Single. One. Of. You!!!


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